Search Menu

Auntie SparkNotes: What's Wrong With My Face?

Auntie SparkNotes: What's Wrong With My Face?

Hi Auntie!
So, I have a seemingly peculiar issue with the skin on my face, around my mouth in particular. I seem to get pimples very close to my lips. I usually get other pimples around my hairline/ forehead, chin and nose areas as well. They are all typical; small, red, most likely more noticeable to me than others. But being one who overanalyzes, I find it odd that they appear so close to my mouth. The problem is, they are unusually hard to get rid of and often are soon replaced by others. I am also afraid that others may think I get cold sores. While on the topic, what exactly causes cold sores? My health/biology teachers have scared the crap out of me by stating that the only known cause is herpes. I have never done the HND, or come remotely close to doing so, but apparently it can be spread by something like sharing a beverage (this of course I am guilty of. Who isn't?) So, basically, I'm in full on freak out mode. I refrain from coming within a 1-2 foot radius of anyone just in case. So, two questions. One, what's wrong with my face? And two, is it normal/okay/not a reason to avoid all of humanity?

Ooooh, oooh, OOOOH! Is it time for a round of Wild 'n' Crazy Fun Fact About Herpes? I think it is! Everyone put on your party hats!

And Sparkler, your teachers are not wrong: cold sores, which are oozy/crusty/nubbly little spots that you get on or around your mouth, are caused by the herpes virus. But wait! Don't freak out! Because any lesson about herpes shouldn't end there; there's a bit more to it than that. Namely, herpes is not only an STD. It comes in two varieties: oral herpes (or HSV-1), which mostly affects your mouth, and genital herpes (or HSV-2), which mostly affects your naughty bits. I say "mostly" because each type of herpes can sometimes manifest itself in the other type's preferred location—but they're still two distinct viruses, and they exist independently of each other.

So if, for example, the HSV-1 (oral) strain crops up in your business district (which is a rare result of receiving oral sex from an infected person), then that doesn't mean you have genital herpes; it means that you have oral herpes on your genitals.

Which is a great comfort to you, I'm sure.

And none of this is to say that you even have herpes, or that what you're seeing are sores. It's not unusual to get pimples around your lips; when your skin is volatile, the pores in that area can get clogged and infected like any other. (And it should go without saying, but any person who sees your lip spots and thinks they're sexually-transmitted herpes is making some seriously illogical assumptions, and is probably also failing biology.) But if they are cold sores, then all that means is that at some point, you came into contact with the HSV-1 virus—by sharing a drink with an infected friend, or getting a smooch from an infected grandparent, or any of the other bajillion ways that people pass bugs around. Which, y'know, is why herpes is so common that 80% of the population has it. Statistically speaking, it's the uninfected who are the weirdos.

If you're curious about what you've got—oral herpes or pimply lips—your doctor should be able to tell you what's what. But again, for the record, there's nothing wrong with your face. Whatever it is, it's nothing to be ashamed of. (Nor is genital herpes, for that matter, but that's a conversation for another day.) And if it is herpes, your only responsibility is to do your best to avoid spreading it to others—which generally means knowing when you have a sore, and when you do have one, keeping your mouth to yourself.

Got herpes? Share it in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, health, skincare, cold sores, herpes

Write your own comment!

About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email